California Man Hospitalized for COVID-19 Suffered Burst Lungs and Had Most of His Fingers Amputated

One of the first Americans to contract COVID-19 suffered severe complications including burst lungs and blood flow problems that led to the amputation of most of his fingers.

Gregg Garfield, 54, became infected with the virus during a skiing vacation in Italy in February, as did a dozen of his friends who accompanied him on the trip, KTLA reported.

At the time, the pandemic had yet to take hold in the U.S., with the first confirmed case of infection reported on January 20, according to a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Once Garfield had arrived back in Southern California, his symptoms worsened and he was admitted to Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, Los Angeles County—becoming the first COVID-19 patient at the hospital where he would spend the next 64 days battling the virus.

After being hospitalized, Garfield's condition deteriorated rapidly and within two days, medical staff had placed him on a ventilator.

Over the course of his stay at the hospital—31 days of which were spent on a ventilator—doctors diagnosed Garfield with several potentially life-threatening complications, including infection with the superbug MRSA, sepsis, kidney failure, liver failure, pulmonary embolisms (blocked blood vessels in the lungs) and four burst lung sites.

Burst lungs occur when air leaks from a damaged lung into the space between the organ and the chest wall.

The mortality rate for COVID-19 patients who have been placed on a ventilator is at least 70 percent, Dr. Daniel Dea at Providence St. Joseph told KTLA. But due to his complications, medical staff only gave Garfield a one percent chance of survival at one point in his illness.

"Medically speaking, I should not be here," Garfield told KTLA.

Remarkably, Garfield made a near-full recovery and was discharged from hospital in early May, which Dea described as "amazing." However, surgeons were forced to amputate all of the fingers on Garfield's right hand and most of the digits on his left hand.

"I'm here today just to stand tall. I turned around with 100 percent capacity on everything from my kidneys, my liver, my cognitive," he said. "I've survived this. I'm doing fantastic. However, take heed on this. My hands are never going to be the same. I don't have fingers anymore. This can happen to you."

Garfield's surgeon, Dr. David Kulber from Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, said that the virus can affect the flow of blood in infected individuals, which is why his patient's fingers had to be amputated. Garfield will undergo further operations to attach prosthetic fingers to his hand.

The graphic below, provided by Statista, illustrates the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the worst affected states as of July 27.

U.S. states with the most COVID-19 cases
U.S. states with the most COVID-19 cases. STATISTA

With coronavirus cases increasing across the country, President Donald Trump often downplaying the severity of the disease, and many Americans choosing not to wear masks, Garfield and his girlfriend A.J. Johnson said his case should serve as a warning to people to take COVID-19 seriously.

"It should not be political," Johnson told KTLA. "We need to come together as humans."

Coronavirus infections are rising in California, with the state now one of the main COVID-19 hotspots in the U.S.

California, the most populous U.S. state, has the most confirmed cases in the country—more than 453,600 as of July 25, according to the state Department of Public Health. And the state has recorded over 8,100 deaths from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic—the fourth highest figure in the country behind Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York.

The 14-day average of the test positivity rate—a key indicator of community spread—is rising, the department said.

"As testing capacity continues to increase across the state, an increase in the number of positive cases has been expected—increasing the importance of positivity rates to find signs of community spread," the department said in a statement.

The latest seven-day average number of new cases in the state is 9,852 per day, which is slightly higher than the figure of 9,127 from the week prior. Hospitalizations have also been increasing over the past two weeks, state data shows.

COVID-19 testing
A person undergoes a finger prick blood sample as part of a coronavirus antibody rapid serological test on July 26, 2020 in San Dimas, California, 30 miles east of Los Angeles. ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images

Los Angeles County has been the hardest hit area of California during the pandemic, with more than 173,900 cases and 4,300 fatalities.

On Sunday, the county reported 1,703 new cases and 10 further deaths, although officials said these figures are incomplete due to delays in the state lab reporting system, City News Service reported. As a result, the number of cases is expected to increase in the next few days.

The number of people hospitalized in the county with confirmed COVID-19 stands at just over 2,000, with 31 percent of those in intensive care, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

In fact, the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the county is at near record-levels, prompting the U.S. Air Force to deploy medical teams to two hospitals in the Los Angeles area, and a further six more across the state.

The graphic below, provided by Statista, illustrates the spread of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. as of July 27.

map of COVID-19 cases in U.S.
The spread of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. STATISTA

"We looked across the state," Dr. Mark Ghaly, California Health and Human Services secretary, told City News Service. "L.A. County—with big hospitals, important centers where we see disease transmission high, concern to make sure the hospitals in that important center are supported— received two out of eight of the teams. We'll continue to work with our federal partners to ensure that staff can be moved to strategic places throughout the state when necessary."

The goal is to ensure "patients get the level of care that they need and that staffing doesn't become the issue around delivering high-quality care around the state," he said.